Category Archives: Updates

Secrets of the Writer’s Journey (repost)

A full year has passed since I launched this blog in August of 2010.  Looking back, I learned quite a bit about the nature of the writer’s journey.  By writing about it and hearing from others on similar paths, or from those who offer support along the way, I’ve come to appreciate that no undertaking is ever completed alone.  As such, I will share some of what I’ve learned.

I’ve reflected on the pilgrimage over the last twelve months and have discovered the following:

  • The publishing landscape has shifted with the advent of self-publishing eBooks via Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s PubIt, or Smashwords.  Many new breakout authors are coming from the ranks of the indie published, and many big names are putting out new work themselves via e-publishing.  This change alone has altered my intended path to publication.  I have decided to forgo traditional paper publishing in the near term and will focus my efforts on what many call indie publishing.  I am in the process of forming a small publishing company and will be publishing my own work electronically.  More details about that next month.
  • My writing goals have expanded.  When I started discussing my own journey and what I knew or thought I knew my only work in progress was Book One of an epic fantasy series. Since then, I’ve put that book on hold to write a new Book One (it takes place ten years earlier).  I’ve also written two novelettes (stories around 10,000 words in length) for near term e-publishing.  One via an anthology with my writer’s group, Quindecim, and the other as a standalone story that serves as a prologue to a contemporary/historical fantasy I’m outlining for release next year.  So rather than just one epic fantasy project, I have five distinct works in progress.  The key will be to finish them all and get them in publishable condition.  I’ll post more about those experiences as they occur.
  • Feedback is critical to improvement.  “A writer writes” is my mantra and favorite slogan, but perhaps I should expand that to be: “A professional writer writes well”.  What is “well”?  Writing well, means having a professional level of story craft.  This comes from practice, practice, practice.  And it comes from feedback from your first reader and beta readers.  We writers are not the best judge of our own work.  We all need a few trusted readers to read our stories or novel chapters and tell us what works and what doesn’t from a story perspective.  Does the opening hook the reader?  Does the ending satisfy?  Do the characters resonate?  Is the pace right?  Are there confusing descriptions?  Is the setting clear and grounded?  Many, if not all, of these questions can be answered for the writer by trusted readers.  If you don’t have some, get some. Friends, colleagues, family, may all be willing to help.  It is also preferable to have at least one writer provide feedback, to add an even more critical review of the story.  Join a writer’s group and get feedback from peers.  The feedback is invaluable.

Even though I haven’t yet completed one of my longer works, I am pleased with my progress so far and can still see the pilgrim’s road quite clearly ahead.  Looking back, we’ve had some good discussions about these Arcane Roads.  For newer visitors, I’m listing below a few of the most popular posts over the past year.  These generated the most interest and/or comments.

The writer’s journey, or the pilgrimage to publication as I’ve dubbed it, is an endless road of discovery.

For the writers out there, what has your journey been like the past year?  For you readers out there, what roads are you traveling?


Reaching the summit

With a couple of days to spare, I’ve dragged myself up the steep trail and have planted myself firmly on the summit.  The elusive first draft of my novella, “The Last Portal,” is complete.

Whew!

My wife/muse/first reader gave me the thumbs up, so I submitted the story to my anthology group this past Tuesday for editing.  Thus begins at least two rounds of scrutiny and polishing to elevate the story to its peak altitude (mountain metaphors intentional).

So, what was my process for writing a 16,000+ word story?

Since this story is set in the fantasy world I created for my novel series, the world-building had already been done.  I decided on characters and a single significant event that would be considered a legend or myth by the protagonists in the novels (which occur chronologically some 5000 years later).  The same way we look back thousands of years for our history, mythology, legends, and origin stories.

So, I came up with characters who would do something so significant they would be remembered as legends or myths in the story world.  My goal was twofold: produce a new original story for my group anthology and deepen the story world of my upcoming epic fantasy novel series.

To complete this story, I wrote between two and three hours per day for three solid weeks.  I estimate the first draft of this story took me at least 32 hours.  That seems long, but at 16000 words, that averages 500 words per hour.   I am not a blazing fast writer, since I often stop writing to think through the scene or the characters actions and how the plot should progress.  I had written an outline and short synopsis for this story, so it wasn’t discovery writing.  Even with a story plan, I spent big chunks of writing time thinking through a plot point or deviating from the outline for a better story path.

The result is under review by my writing group.  I’ll update soon once I get some feedback.

The process of collaborating on an anthology project has inspired me to expand my focus on short fiction.  I have rekindled my enthusiasm for short fiction, finding the process creatively satisfying.  Thus, I will soon have another new project to discuss as I prepare another novella for publication.  More details to follow.  Yes, another teaser.  This project is even more exciting to me because it is a novella that introduces a potential stand alone novel in the historical/modern fantasy genre.

What do you do to reach the proverbial summit in your writing?  How do you stay with a story until the end?


Dam the flood?

No, it’s not raining.  Really?  Rain in the desert?  And because there is no rain, the rivers are dry, the lakes are static and the climate is stable.  Hot and dry, but stable.

What I refer to is a creative flood.  Let me ‘splain.  No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.

Project Q, my anthology short story, has just exceeded my target goal of 10,000 words.  While this is good news and I’ve enjoyed the ride on the whitewater rapids of 1000 plus words per day, the story is only 2/3 completed based on what has to happen.

What does this mean?

It means that the story dictates the story.  No, that is not a philosophical paradox.  In my experience, goals and targets are merely mile markers on the journey to “The End.”  The end of the story is not a destination, it is the end of a journey.

Okay, I’ve lost you.  Here’s an analogy.  With a car and a GPS, you pick a distant city and drive a specific, direct route to get there and arrive in a relatively precise amount of time after having traveled a relatively precise distance.  With travel, this is what we want in most cases.  Predictable planning.

No so with writing.  The goal with writing is to create a journey, not reach a specific destination.  The story idea may suggest a general size, short story versus novel.  But can you really predict that a particular short story will be exactly 10,000 words or a novel will be exactly 200,000 words?  Does it make any sense to expand or contract a story to fit into arbitrary size parameters.

Yes and no.  If you’re writing for periodicals, there is typically a finite space allotted to fiction and that will have a word count limit.  See the guidelines for the specifics.  If you’re writing for category fiction, your novel may need to be within a certain narrow range, e.g. 50,000 – 55,000 words based on the format for that category.  See publishers guidelines for specifics.

Outside those types of markets, it makes less sense to confine the story.

In my case, the anthology for which I am writing has a “suggested” and “agreed upon” target word count of 10,000 words, but no real upper limit.  Sure, those parameters are somewhat arbitrary, but the story will ultimately determine the length.

My deadline is this Sunday.  My story has reached my initial minimum target, but it is not finished.  So, for me, for this story, I will not dam the flood and will let the river rage on.

What are your thoughts on story length?

–Mark


Novel Update #2

As is often the case when starting a big writing project, a writer finds himself at a crossroads.  My writing pilgrimage began in the summer of 2009 with the intent to write the first book in an epic fantasy series.  15 months and 90,000 words later, I discovered that the market currently does not support first novelists with long books (meaning 120,000 words is the ceiling).  Since my book was on pace for 180,000 words, I was going to be significantly over the acceptable limit.

What to do?  Stop writing and grumble about the state of the market?  Resurrect old writing projects, like a romantic comedy screenplay?  Read some more how to books?  Play a new video game?

Or all of the above, in my case.  So how is this a novel update?  After several weeks of writerly angst and some very good advice from my wife, who is also my muse, I decided to write a “prequel” novel to my epic fantasy series that is much shorter and more suitable for the current market.

Why do this?

Here are the benefits:

  1. I’ve already done all the world building for this series of books.  Many of the same characters are already developed and a prequel just captures events when they are younger.
  2. The prologue to my last year’s big novel is actually the end of what will be the prequel.
  3. The whole story deepens and all characters have much greater motivations be telling the story in the prequel.
  4. Just like The Hobbit is the prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, my prequel will tell an earlier, but essential beginning to the overall story and sets the stage nicely for all this is come.
  5. The last year’s big novel will need far less back story and fewer flashbacks because those events will actually occur in the prequel.
  6. When I resume writing last year’s big novel, I will already be half-finished.
  7. I will be a better writer after the prequel is written and will be able to add new skill to complete last year’s novel.

So, the very short version of the update is that I’m starting a new novel with a working title of “The Lost Tower.”  For those who recall, last year’s big novel was called “The Tower” but is now entitled “The Codex of Shrines.”

I am currently outlining the story and writing new character biographies.  I expect to begin writing the first draft by the first of February.  I did not outline last year, so I expect to be more focused and more productive with fewer stalls or detours this year.

As a reader, we don’t often realize what happens backstage with the writer and his story before it is published.  We only see the books on the shelves or online in a catalog.  Often each published novel has an interesting story of its own in how it came to be.  And hopefully THAT story is not more interesting than novel itself.

May we all overcome perceived roadblocks in our pursuit of goals and at year’s end be able to look back with satisfaction at what we have accomplished.

–Mark


Novel Update #1

This blog started as an account of my pilgrimage to write and publish an epic fantasy novel.  The past several posts have been focused on aspects of writing fiction.  Today, I will speak a little about the first half of The Tower and a summary of the activity to date.  I will include no spoilers since I am writing a first draft and any aspect of the story could change in subsequent drafts.

As currently conceived, The Tower (working title only) is the first of a trilogy entitled King of the World (working title).   The founders of civilization, an ancient race of superior, magically endowed beings long ago descended below the surface of the earth when a portion of their society grew corrupt.  Those that remained on the Earth’s surface lost much of their magic, called lithomancy, and became the race of mankind.  For almost six thousand years, the memory and influence of the Old Ones or the Elder Race, has been kept alive via religion, myths and legends.  Shrines of worship dot the land and it is an important rite of adulthood for young worshippers to spend a year seeking the shrines to commune with the Old Ones.

However, signs of change are upon the land and the ancient prophecies are being interpreted as a return of the Old Ones to once again rule the surface of the Earth.  Who supports the return of the Old Ones and who opposes it?  In a world of peace that hasn’t known armed conflict in centuries, the citizens of the countries of Laurentia are not prepared for a possible war that would enslave all of mankind.

The Tower is the introduction of a  small group of uniquely skilled and chosen travelers who are invited on a pilgrimage they don’t fully understand but will ultimately have far-reaching consequences to the future of civilization.  Also introduced are those who know what is prophesied to happen and are working very hard to ensure preparations are made for the ascension of the Elder Race, the Old Ones of religion and legend.

So, my progress on this story is as follows.  I’ve written just over 80,000 words (which is the average length of a mystery novel).  For fantasy, however, this is more like only half a novel.  80,000 words translates to about 275 pages.  Readers of fantasy will note that many of your favorite books are 500+ pages and some are close to 900.  I may be closer to 1/3 than 1/2 half.  We’ll see.

To help me in my writing pilgrimage, I’m in a writer‘s group where I submit a complete chapter online each week and two other writers provide a critique a week later.  I’ve already had the Prologue and Chapter One reviewed and I’m quite grateful for the feedback because quite a few errors were found.  Apparently I have a tendency to write in passive voice which is where things happen to characters, rather than characters taking action on things or events.  Only 2% of my sentences had this flaw, but now that I’m aware of it, I intend to purge it completely.

I also used the thesaurus a bit too much early on and used a few words that if you didn’t know the meaning, would stall the story and cause you to have to look it up.  Not good for a smooth flowing story.

Some of you may be wondering where or how I came up with a story idea about ancient races living underground and rising again.  I was inspired by some research I did about some ancient Buddhist myths.  In a future post, I’ll post more about research and how it benefits writing.

For now, I carry on in my writing and will update on my progress again soon.

Mark


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MY SPOT OF INK: my ramblings on the ups and downs of writing a fantasy novel (or anything else that grabs my interest - books, food, movies, life)

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Geoff's Ruminations

The thoughts and passions of a hopeful future author.